Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 115 minutes
Appropriate for ages 10 and up. A stray mention of flatulence constitutes this movie’s mild language. As for thematic elements, the film touches lightly but firmly on issues of birth, life, and death that may require a parent’s explanation.
With themes that are both contemporary and timeless—and just a pinch of pixie dust to fuel its enchantments—The Odd Life of Timothy Green is both a departure from the Disney mold and a reaffirmation of Disney style.
By Jared Peterson
It’s been a little while since we’ve had a good, old-fashioned “Disney movie” that didn’t involve talking cars, or talking toys, or toy cars you get talked into buying. Blessedly, The Odd Life of Timothy Green has limited merchandising potential. Its story is built around the gift a child is, not the gift a child gets.
The odd life in question unfolds in flashbacks, related by a young couple to an adoption officer (Shohreh Aghdashloo) who is evaluating their fitness as prospective parents. Jim and Cindy Green (Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner) begin their tale with the dark moment when they learn that they cannot conceive a child. Devastated but determined to move on, they seek closure in a kind of cathartic scrapbooking, writing on slips of paper each and every quality they dreamed their kid would have. They put these in a box and bury it in their garden. That night, a magical rain falls, and out of the mud crawls a real, live boy, albeit one with healthy green leaves sprouting from his legs.
The Greens take this providence in bewildered stride and eagerly welcome Timothy (CJ Adams) into their family. He is theirs, of course, and wonderful at that: bright, creative, earnest, funny—quite literally everything they’d hoped. From there they do what any parents might—look after him, try to learn who he is, and shield him from the pain of being seen as different. (Starting with a pair of goofy extra-long gym socks over his leafy calves (which really substitutes one problem for another).
Timothy has his brushes with preadolescence—a run-in with bullies, an awkward go at little-league soccer, and a chaste crush on a pretty classmate (Odeya Rush) whom he dares to let in on his secret. But his odd life is a catalyst, really, and the protagonists here are the adults, Jim and Cindy, parents who have so much to lose and to gain in such a short stretch. Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Garner are both polished to a high shine of Disney wholesomeness, but they convey the haplessness and anxiety of parenthood equally well. CJ Adams’ Timothy is cute and calm and unperturbed, aware of the reality that things, especially things out of the blue, don’t last. “There’s only so much time,” says Timothy, with wisdom and detachment beyond his years. The message is no less powerful for being preordained and clearly spelled out.
As befits any Disney production, The Odd Life of Timothy Green takes place in a world that is both exquisitely crafted and pleasantly idealized. Like Timothy himself, the movie’s style seems like the product of overlapping wish lists. Its rich palette of greens and yellows and burgundies reflect the seasons and their passing; but they also rub off on some earthy and enviable throwback fashions. (The entire production could have been costumed out of a single late summer J.Crew catalogue from the ’90s.) Timothy and his girl-slash-friend ride banana-seat bikes and engage in elaborate crafting projects; Cindy draws and cooks organic; Jim whittles a revolutionary new pencil. It’s all quite winning and charming—and very, very Pinteresting. But, through all this, it’s worth reminding yourself that neither the Walt Disney Company nor writer-director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life) is trying to pull one over on you. The Odd Life of Timothy Green comes by its stylishness honestly. Any tears it jerks will be real.